Should the Yankees look at Rich Harden as back-of-the-rotation fodder?

Prospect Profile: George Kontos
Cashman talks further about Yanks winter plans
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

On Tuesday Mike took a look at the A’s starters that are still under contract that could theoretically be acquired via trade. Today I wanted to look at a righty who pitched for the A’s last season that could be acquired for just money: free agent Rich Harden.

Before we dive too deeply into this, note that a potential Yankee acquisition of Harden almost certainly wouldn’t occur until January, comes with the assumption that they don’t end up signing either Yu Darvish or C.J. Wilson, and that the team would likely be looking at the oft-injured Harden as the 2012 version of either Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon.

Anyway, it wasn’t too long ago that Harden was one of the best pitchers on the planet. Starting with his inaugural season through the end of 2009, Harden compiled the 9th-best ERA (3.39) in all of MLB among pitchers with 750-plus innings. Among that same group he posted the top K/9 in all of baseball (9.35) and 15th-best FIP (3.58).

Unfortunately, while the soon-to-be 31-year-old Harden has frequently been brilliant, he has of course also frequently been injured. He’s never thrown more than 200 innings in a season, and has only even broken the 150-inning plateau once, back in 2004 (a career-high 189.2 innings and 31 starts). Harden’s litany of professional injuries began in 2005, as he lost more than a month to an oblique strain, and suffered a shoulder injury later in the year. The 2006 and 2007 seasons were almost entirely lost to injury, as he made a combined 13 starts in between recovering from a series of back, elbow and shoulder problems.

Harden got semi-back on track in 2008, turning in a superb 13 starts for the Athletics (2.34 ERA/2.83 FIP) before  being traded to the Cubs and compiling an even better 12 starts for Chicago (1.70 ERA/3.08 FIP) in the stretch run, though he still missed time with another right shoulder injury. The Cubs picked up Harden’s option for 2009, but still another back injury and right arm injury limited his effectiveness, and he turned in the worst full season of his career.

The Rangers ended up signing Harden in December 2009 to what seemed to be an aggressive one-year, $7.5 million deal. I was beating the drum pretty hard for Ben Sheets at the time — whose career rather eerily mirrors Harden’s — as both pitchers looked to be solid high-risk, high-reward signings. Harden wound up being terrible for Texas in yet another injury-plagued year, and was released after the season.

The A’s signed him to a one-year deal last winter, and though he (surprise, surprise) started the year on the DL with yet another shoulder injury, he threw fairly well over his first nine starts of the season, tossing to a 3.91 ERA and a crazy 10.2 K/9, showing that he still had his famous strikeout stuff despite a significant decline in velocity from his peak fastball. Unfortunately for Harden, the Yankees more or less broke him during the three-grand slam game, and he finished the season tossing to a 7.28 ERA over his final six starts.

So what does the enigmatic Harden have to offer potential suitors? I initially created a table breaking down his repertoire and results against righties and lefties over the last few seasons, courtesy of, but rather than post that monstrosity here I’ll just summarize.

Here’s the good news: all four of Harden’s pitches — the low-90s four-seamer, low-80s slider, low-80s changeup and low-80s splitter, were above-average Whiff% pitches against hitters from both sides of the plate. The changeup in particular wreaked havoc on righties, racking up a 30.8% whiff rate (compared to 12.6% league average). As a point of comparison, James Shields’s Whiff% with the change against righties was 20.5%. Now, Shields of course deployed the changeup quite a bit more frequently than Harden, but it’s still a point in Harden’s favor. Harden’s change has also been a valuable weapon against lefties, with a 20.5% Whiff%.

Here’s the not-so-good news (batted ball data from

While the slider was a strong swing-and-miss offering against righties, they also punished his apparently fairly frequent mistakes, as 2.6% of his sliders left the yard. In fact, Harden gave up a career-high 1.85 home runs per nine in 2011. The remainder of his batted-ball profile is a bit scary as well, with a 22.8% LD% that would’ve put him among the highest in baseball had he enough innings to qualify (though CC Sabathia finished in the top 10, so it’s not as if that’s some automatic death knell), while his GB% would have been among the lowest in the league.

Still, Harden finished the season with a 9.91 K/9, which is bound to draw interest from a number of different parties, even with his myriad injury issues. Even though he hasn’t been an elite pitcher since 2008, I would be surprised if Harden was still on the market by the time the Yankees would theoretically come calling.

That said, if he is still hanging around come January, and the Yankees still have an opening in the rotation, if I’m the Yanks I would absolutely take a flier on Harden, who they were looking at as a potential waiver-wire acquisition in August, and who probably isn’t in line for all that much more than the $1.5 million he picked up with the A’s last season.

Prospect Profile: George Kontos
Cashman talks further about Yanks winter plans
  • Craig Maduro

    I’d be on board. Just cross your fingers and hope he can at least make it through May. By then the Yanks would hopefully have an in-house candidate ready to fill the vacancy.

  • MannyGeee

    set this guy up with some stem cells and make this happen

    • Craig Maduro

      Haha, maybe they should sign that doctor and just clean up on old/injured lottery tickets.

  • Plank

    Is this an A’s blog?

  • Rich in NJ

    As long as the contract doesn’t block a young pitcher who might emerge in ST (or some time during the season), I’m fine with it.

  • Nemesis

    “Should the Yankees look at Rich Harden as back-of-the-rotation fodder?”

    I didn’t even have to read this post to come to this conclusion, no!

    • Larry Koestler

      That’s rather short-sighted of you. Right now the Yankee rotation is CC Sabathia/Ivan Nova/A.J. Burnett/Phil Hughes. If they don’t end up with Darvish or Wilson, they’ll need a fifth starter. Even if they bring Garcia back, they’ll still likely want to stockpile another starter in case of emergency.

      As Rich in NJ said, as long as his deal doesn’t block a young pitcher — and given that no team is giving him more than one year and the dollar value will be chump change to the Yankees if they need to DFA him — there’s little reason not to take a flier on a low-cost, high-risk, potentially high-reward pitcher.

      • Ted Nelson

        I don’t think it’s unreasonable to just say no to Harden if you don’t want to take the risk. (Not necessarily my take, but reasonable.)

        I highly doubt he’s going to sign to just be one of 7-10 candidates for the rotation. I think he can still find work on a team with less depth than the Yankees (not much quality, but lots of depth and entrenched guys like Burnett) that will guarantee a rotation spot if healthy/effective. He’s not 40 like Colon and the Yankees gave Garcia a verbal commitment on a rotation spot as I recall.

        He would immediately be blocking Noesi, Phelps, and Warren. Depends on their plans on those three.

    • jsbrendog

      this is great, mature, well thought out analysis. how could i disagree? i mean, you laid out your argument in valid bullet points and…wait….


  • FIPster Doofus

    They have enough back-of-the-rotation fodder.

    • nsalem

      You can grow your own back of the rotation fodder dotf hydroponically and it’s much cheaper. Rumor has it that if you grow them indoors in a controlled environment they come out much better. You also have your choice of left handed or right handed fodder.

  • Monteroisdinero

    The fodder we get from damaged goods the better.

    Wait for Manny B.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Harden is the pitching version of Chavez and Chavez is the hitting version of Bedard. I’d rather have Bedard but you can flip a coin on one of them and heads you sign, tails you don’t.

  • Slu

    No. He cannot stay healthy enough to contribute, even if he is good.

    • jsbrendog

      two words. bartolo colon.

      • Ted Nelson

        Anything is possible, but the Yankees had evidence Colon could stay healthy and contribute based on his surgery and Winter League showing. Plus he came on a minor league deal expressing a willingness to pitch out of the pen…

        I don’t know anything about Harden’s health or flexibility on contract and role, but the answers may not be as favorable as with Colon.

  • bg90027

    I think their focus ought to be landing a solid (preferably) #2 or #3 who is relatively reliable for 200 IP and then possibly take a couple of flyers on guys to compete with Hughes, Burnett, Noesi, Warren, etc at the back of the rotation and add some depth. If they could get Harden on a minor league contract for that purpose, I’d do it yesterday.

    If he’s going to require a ML deal (which I’d assume he would), I’d wait to see how the market shakes out. I’m not a big fan of CJ Wilson and I don’t think any of us are really qualified to know whether Darvish is a good investment or just a high stakes gamble that should be avoided. They very well may have to look through the bargin bin to round out the rotation and look for upgrades and if that is the case, Harden might be a decent option at the right price. I think they should probably avoid him for now though until they’ve decided that the free agent and trade markets won’t yield a more reliable starter at a reasonable price.

  • Eric

    Nice post Larry. I’ve always liked Harden because of his strikeout stuff, but it would be a mistake to count on him for more than 100 innings (which he has done only 4 times in his career). Plus his fly ball/home run tendencies are somewhat scary in Yankee Stadium, and his velocity decline is cause for concern (though he was still effective). I’d be all for bringing him in on a deal with little guaranteed money and incentives for innings pitched, but I would also want a good backup plan for when he inevitably ends up on the DL.

  • Brian S.

    After addressing the rotation with a Wilson/Darvish/Jackson signing, if he can be be had with a 1-1.5 mil deal I say go for it. He has the potential to provide a lot of value.

  • Johnny O

    I’m not an expert, but would his stuff play out of the bullpen? Or could he be a long reliever caddy to AJ and Phil (if he needs it?). If he could put together 100 innings either out of 15 starts or some relief appearances, he could be a 1 WAR pitcher.

    Unforunately if Chien-Ming Wang is worth $4M, someone will give Harden a simliar deal, no?

    • Larry Koestler

      That’s a great point; I’d forgotten about the Wang deal. With that overpay it would seem to increase the likelihood that someone doles out several million to Harden.

      • nsalem

        Disagree. Just like Werth wasn’t worth the 7 years 126 million he received Wang probably did not merit $4 million going into last year. In both instances the Nat’s may very well have been bidding against themselves.

        • Ted Nelson

          Wang got the $4 mill for next season, not last season.

          Wang averaged close to 6 IP/GS with an ERA of 3.70 in the final two months of the season. Not a great value, but depending on his medicals might not be as crazy as people think.

          • nsalem

            You’re right Ted. I did correct myself a couple of minutes later. Wang at 4 million for 2012 is about what he deserves.

      • Plank

        I don’t think that was an overpay. Salaries have gone up.

        • nsalem

          Didn’t realize that they signed him last week for 2012. I thought the 4 million was for 2011. Wang showed some signs of health and skills last year which Harden has lacked for years. Harden was paid 1.5 million last year and i don’t think he did anything to merit a raise (as opposed to Wang).

          • Jose M. Vazquez..

            Before his lisfranc tear while running in Houston, Mien Wang was very healthy and dependable. I liked him a lot and if he continues healthy he could again win 18-19 games a season. No he is not the brittle type. It is just that one injury led to the other.

            • Plank

              You just described Wang as not brittle. Nonsense.

              He’s missed massive amounts of time with foot, hip, shoulder injuries.

              He hasn’t pitched a full season since 2007.

              • Jose M. Vazquez..

                You may be right. I am not his doctor and I am assuming that after the lisfranc(foot) injury, while favoring the foot he hurt his hip and while favoring the hip he hurt his shoulder. This has occurred with other pitchers but perhaps not as extensively. However, prior to those episodes I never heard of Wang complaining of any injuries.

  • nsalem

    Yes if it was for about $1 million for 1 year and he was willing to pitch out of the bullpen in the event he was not in the starting 5. Since he has only had an average of about 15 starts per year out of the bullpen the last 6 or 7 years and still misses bats its something he might consider to extend his major league career. He also must agree not to sneak into the dugout during games and watch the Stanley Cup while eating fried chicken and drinking Molsons. He also must agree to not state in public that he likes Ice Hockey better baseball.

  • CMP

    The Yankees already have “back of the rotation fodder” in guys like AJ Burnett and Phil Hughes not to mention plenty of options at AAA including Phelps, Warren and DJ Mitchell who could all probably be replacement level or a bit better at the back of the rotation.

    They need to add a number 2 or 3 type pitcher to back up CC at the top of the rotation.

  • http://none Favrest

    If you’re signing him w the idea in mind that you could use him for 2-3 months until he breaks, why not bring Colon back? He was our best pitcher for a 2 month stretch. Who knows, with more stem cells, maybe he can put together a full season. We already know Harden can’t.

    • FIPster Doofus

      If nothing else, I’d love to have Colon back just for his dugout antics.

      • nsalem

        That and I think he has a better chance of being more effective and healthier than Harden.

  • Thomas Cassidy

    Not only can he not stay healthy, but he isn’t good anymore.

    • nsalem

      Very true, but that’s what we were saying about Bartolo and Garcia last year. We are shopping at the bottom of the barrel and I think the goal is to sign 4 or 5 guy perceived to be through (as we did last year) and hopefully one will work out. Last year we hit the jackpot when we got decent performances from 2 pitchers.

      • Thomas Cassidy

        They were very lucky next year, and I would like them to bring back Garcia. I’m still not so sure on Colon yet.

  • JohnC

    Would rather just bring back Colon.

  • nycsportzfan

    no way! If this is the case, mines well take a shot on PAUL MAHOLM and see what the Lefty can do on a good team.. its a better option then Harden who just is to injury prone and seems done(as far as real good seasons left in em)

    We should focus on Trade, because our Farm is ridiculously deeper, and u gotta strike while the Farms value is seemingly so high.. For instance, we could trade say Betances/Romine/Nunez/Phelps(just example), and still have Montero, banuelos, sanchez, murphy, marshall, kontos, noesi, joseph, heredia, and so on and so fourth… We gotta make a splash in the trade market, and then maybe bring in a guy like Jackson or Buerhle to a 2yr deal(which ever one will sign a 2yr deal… That is the way to do it in my opinion.. Come away with a Gio or a Greinke, or a Jurrjiens.. Put them behind CC with Nova in the 3spot, and Burnett in 4spot, and then use either hughes or re-sign freddie or maholm for 5spot, and then u still go guys like Warren, Banuelos, and others for down the line homegrown talent..

  • J.R. O’Grady

    Fairly certain Cashman already thinking of Harden. In his own words, he wrote Harden was “due for an injury-free year.” Thank god we got access to that confidential offseason blueprint.

  • chris

    This is the way I feel, if the Yankees are going to spend time on the Freddy Garcia’s, the Bartolo Colon’s, than they might as well bring the younger guys up and let them have at it. They need a bonafide number 2 starter in my opinion and that’s not any of the guys that have been mentioned besides maybe C.J. Wilson but only at the right price. The only real number two quality is in the trade market so I won’t be surprised Cashman doesn’t explore that area first to see if he can try make sense of something. We’re wasting our time on guys that “could” work out for one year. Let’s build a rotation for the long-haul.

    • Ted Nelson

      Yeah, because Garcia and Colon worked out so poorly and all…

      Obviously they want to build their rotation for the long-haul. That doesn’t mean there’s not value in depth and winning games.

      • chris

        We found a needle in a haystack, Cashman said it himself. I know what they did last year. I’m not saying anything about performance but let’s be realistic. Let’s go after starters that aren’t just one year rentals- That’s what i’m saying bud

  • The Captain

    I wouldn’t offer the guy anything more than the non-guaranteed deals that the Yanks offered Garcia and Colon this past offseason.

  • JonS

    he would be a fine acquisition but i don’t think its a necessity. For the back of the rotation i would bring back Garcia or bring in Buerhle (sry for killing his name don’t feel like looking it up). I see Harden as a potential for the Red Sox for back end or Mets for a 3 or 4